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Injured Florida worker granted $2,000 advance on comp benefits

Injured Florida worker granted $2,000 advance on comp benefits

A Florida injured worker was due an advance payment of workers compensation benefits because she proved that she faced financial hardship from her workplace injury, Florida's 1st District Court of Appeal ruled Tuesday.

Hattie Bonner worked for Miami-Dade Public Schools and was injured in April 2012, according to court records that do not provide details of her job or accident. She spent 18 months on sick leave from work and returned to her job with a reduction in pay.

Ms. Bonner asked for a $2,000 advance in workers comp benefits, which is allowed under Florida law for “medical and related financial needs arising from workplace injuries,” court filings show.

Ms. Bonner said in testimony that the advance “would put me up to date ... so that I could put food in my refrigerator, for one thing, gas in my car, and to pay my bills,” records show.

A Florida judge of compensation claims denied Ms. Bonner's request, finding that Ms. Bonner's difficulties were not related to her workplace injury. He also classified some of her bills as “luxury expenses,” according to filings.

A panel of the Florida 1st District Court of Appeal overturned that ruling 2-1 on Tuesday. The majority found that Ms. Bonner qualified for the advance because her workplace injury caused a reduction in her earnings.

“These small advances are merely a stopgap to help a claimant avoid defaulting with creditors while awaiting the potential distribution of workers' compensation benefits, when the reduction in income is caused by the injury,” the ruling reads. “A claimant is not required to live a pauper's life to be eligible for an advance of up to $2,000.”

In his dissent, Judge Bradford L. Thomas wrote that the lower court judge found that Ms. Bonner's income and expenses were roughly equal. Therefore, he said, there was a lack of evidence showing that Ms. Bonner's workers comp case caused her financial hardship.

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